Nothing against the singing of Chris Pine, who does a serviceable turn as host of this week’s Saturday Night Live, but he sings a lot this episode. A lot. Like, preparing-to-give-up-film-and-pursue-a-career-as-a-Vegas-crooner a lot. Like, more singing sketches (five, plus two where he lip syncs) than Lin-Manuel Miranda — who was on the show solely for his contributions to musical theater.
Maybe it was an attempt to distinguish himself from the other famous Chrises out there in the world? His monologue (which leads into a song, naturally) is about how people confuse him with Chris Evans, Hemsworth, or Pratt — maybe he wants to be the affable, towheaded star of an action fantasy franchise named Chris who can also sing? If so, it may not have been the worst idea in the world. Plug any of the other Chrises into this show and nobody would bat an eye. Let’s get to the sketches.
Best of the Night: “Where in the World Is Kellyanne Conway”
SNL is frequently knocked for turning a 2-minute joke into a 7-minute epic where the gag is beaten to death and its body dragged through the streets. This was not that. It nails all the specifics of the original show, takes a shot at a public figure that’s cheap (but not so cheap that the FCC will investigate you), then leaves before it wears out its welcome.
Worst of the Night: “The House”
Not that this sketch is terrible, but it’s certainly the least necessary. The tropes of this kind of reality show are well-worn — from the manufactured drama to the extended pauses for effect, to the “unexpected” friendly turns — and, while Kyle Mooney is a master of the form, we’ve seen him in this role a thousand times. The home invasion is the only gag that lands, but even that is hobbled by Pete Davidson’s goofy mugging (the comedy kind, not the criminal) at the end.
Best Use of the Host: “Star Trek Lost Episode”
It’s almost obligatory: This set must have been used a dozen times or more in the history of SNL. Pine turns out to have a fantastic Shatner impression under his belt — controlled and not too hammy —likely he’s been asked to break it out at every convention and red carpet appearance. Spocko is vintage Bobby Moynihan; Alex Moffat does a better than expected Chekhov.
Unusually, the weak point of the sketch is Kenan Thompson’s Neil deGrasse Tyson. Thompson has never been known for the accuracy of his impressions; they tend to be exaggerated caricatures that succeed because he infuses them with silliness, and a wink to the audience acknowledging how terrible they are. But there’s also usually a love for the real person being imitated. Here, though, it felt like either Thompson has never seen Tyson and built the character out of a quick skim of his Wikipedia article, or he actively hates him. Either way, it sucked some of the enjoyment from an otherwise fun sketch.
Satire With Teeth: “The Handmaid’s Tale”
The Hulu show is dark and, at times, frighteningly real. This sketch, featuring a couple of bros who don’t notice that the women around them have been reduced to property, is a pointed commentary that, in its own way, is also frighteningly real. It’s easy to ignore prejudice and injustice when it’s not happening to you and it’s a safe bet that, if something like The Handmaid’s Tale does come to pass, there’ll be a few guys like this who have nothing more to offer than, “Okay, sorry for helping.”
Commitment, Thy Name Is Pine: “Couples Game Night” and “SWAT Recon”
No one can fault the man for not throwing himself in to his roles with abandon. Which Pine do you prefer: Passionately Dramatic Pine who never goes anywhere without his synthesizer? Or Childlike and Innocent Pine who embraces joy and dances like no one is watching, even though someone is definitely watching? Lucky for you, you don’t have to choose.
*Isn’t Pine supposed to be on to promote Wonder Woman? They had room for Spocko, but they couldn’t find room for Cecily Strong to play a badass Amazon?
*If the guy playing Sulu looks familiar, he should: He’s been doing it for a while. That’s Akira Yoshimura, one of the show’s production designers. He appears on screen occasionally, most often as Sulu, who he first played back in 1976.
Saturday Night Live airs Saturdays at 11:35 p.m. on NBC. Watch clips and full episodes of SNL for free on Yahoo View.